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National gay blood drive to raise awareness of FDA restrictions

Young man donating blood.
Young man donating blood.

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Great strides have recently been made when it comes to gay rights, but there are still plenty of situations in which homosexuals are treated differently from their heterosexual counterparts.

Since 1983, the FDA has rejected blood donations from men who have had sex with other men anytime after 1977.  The policy has nothing to do with judgment about sexual orientation, but rather is based on the documented risk of transmissible infections like HIV. 

"This regulation was implemented at a time when there was really no good test to detect HIV, and there was a disproportionate percentage of gay men who were infected with the virus," said Dr. Alyssa Ziman, medical director of the UCLA Blood and Platelet Center. "This was really the best means that we had available to us to protect the blood supply and patients who would need these transfusions."

Ryan Yezak, an organizer of the National Gay Blood Drive, and others want the FDA to revise its policy will take part in something being dubbed the National Gay Blood Drive. 

"It's basically a way to see how many gay and bisexual men to come out and donate and to show the FDA that this population could be a great contribution to the blood supply," said Yezak. "don't write them off as diseased, lift the blanket ban."

Across the country otherwise eligible gay/bisexual male donors will show up at various donation centers, have their blood tested for HIV and attempt to donate their blood. Yezak explained that as each donor is rejected, their test result will be delivered to the FDA.

Dr. Ziman says the current regulations have to do with the window period between when someone can be exposed to a virus and when it is detectable. Right now the window period for HIV testing is approximately nine days. For other diseases that can be transmitted through blood transfusion such as Hepatitis C the window period is about seven days.  

She says, in addition to the window period, the short shelf life of blood and platelets makes it difficult to test samples and be sure they were free from HIV or other viruses. 

"Logistically it would be extremely difficult, you would have to test donors beforehand to make sure that they've had no high risk behavior, and then have them come in and donate and test it again," said Dr. Ziman. "The blood expires, it has a very short wouldn't have time to hold onto the blood and the virus wouldn't replicate in the same way in the sample as it would in the human body."

However, new movement to change the all out ban on gays donating blood has been gaining momentum. Activists hope to allow gay men to donate blood after waiting a one-year deferral period, similar to those who have previously engaged in high-risk behaviors like intravenous drug use. 

"You could come up with a really rational, scientifically based approach and definitely decrease the deferral period," said Dr. Ziman. "Organizations that are involved in blood banking across the United States have supported this, and the suggestion has been to reduce it to a 1-year deferral period, which applies to many donor populations that engage in higher risk behaviors," 

Blood Drive info:

When: Fri, July 12,9:00 am - 5:00 pm
Where: Kaiser Permanente Blood Donation Center, 4700 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90027